The history of virtual reality and augmented reality technology goes back to 1838, when Charles Wheatstone created his stereoscope, which superimposed an image over each of the user’s eyes, thus creating a distant 3D image. Over the years, Edwin Link’s flight simulator, Morton Heilig’s telesphere mask, Ivan Sutherland’s “Sword of Damocles” VR headset and many more inventions contributed to the cutting-edge technology we recognize today. Of course, the future of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) will make our current technology look as primitive as the early experimentations.

Due to extremely high development costs, the complexities of AR/VR devices and other challenges, these technologies are still tiptoe-ing into the commercial world, but early adoption has arrived. So, how close are we to mass adoption?

In HubAI Augmented and Virtual Reality Technology Trends Survey, technology and business stakeholders indicated that consumer use of AR/VR will see adoption first. Most importantly, almost 70% of respondents believe AR/VR will become mainstream within five years.

More than a decade ago, the first real smartphone hit the market and made screens an essential ingredient of our lives. As a result, it has changed how we communicate, work, travel, purchase and more. 

Today, a third of American households have three or more smartphones, according to Pew Research Center, while 23% have three or more desktops and 17% have three or more tablets. We are constantly surrounded by screens. It is almost impossible to escape them. 

The first validation of consumer augmented reality technology use came from the explosively popular AR app Pokémon Go. Before then, nobody had thought about AR experiences or applications on a smartphone. This unexpected use of mobile AR successfully validated the consumer mass adoption of augmented reality.  

Since Pokémon Go's initial launch in 2016, new smartphone implementations have been unveiled. While companies like Snapchat and Facebook have found entertaining ways to deliver AR experiences on social media platforms, retailers have developed AR apps to assist customers with online purchasing decisions. For example, the Ikea app gives consumers the ability to visualize furniture in their own home, simply by holding up their smartphone in a room or area. This helps alleviate part of the fear consumers experience when shopping online for big items, such as furniture. It provides an added convenience.

Smartphones, coupled with headsets, have been the most common use of delivering a VR experience for a few years now. This has been the most accessible entry-point for consumer VR use. Virtual reality is a lot more mature than the existing augmented reality market. The required software tools and hardware platforms to create an immersive VR experience are already available. With the availability of more advanced systems such as the Oculus Rift, coupled with 360 cameras, virtual reality experiences are quickly finding new avenues into our lives.

Virtual reality is showing some effective industry use-cases as well, from real estate applications to tourism. On a recent trip to Israel, I witnessed the Jerusalem Visitor’s Bureau using VR to immerse tourists in how the city looked 5,000 years ago. These types of innovative VR experiences are unveiling in industries worldwide.

Although augmented reality technology is less mature than virtual reality due to the limitations of AR technology, lack of standardization and a higher price tag, it is already being utilized in industries including manufacturing, healthcare and logistics. Augmented reality experiences are typically delivered through headsets, such as Meta, ODG, Vuzix and HoloLens, and are showing early signs that the technology is set to transform commercial and industrial markets. However, there is still work to be done before these technologies can reach mainstream adoption.